‘Orchestrating Indiana Jones’ (1989)

By Fernando Gonzalez, Globe Staff
The Boston Globe, page 91, June 18th, 1989
The music business thrives on stories of overnight fame and million-dollar contracts. For most musicians, success means simply making a living doing what they have trained to do.
It’s an extremely competitive world in which discipline and flexibility are a must. A good day might include a recording for a soap commercial in the morning, some teaching in the afternoon and a Mahler symphony at night. The weekend schedule might bring a pop show, a wedding and a jazz dance.
Pat Hollenbeck, 34, knows this life well. Most recently, he orchestrated John Williams’ score for “Indiana Jones and the Last Crusade.” Last year, he orchestrated jazz composer George Russell’s “Esthetic Gravities,” a commission by Boston Musica Viva. He plays percussion with the Boston Symphony Orchestra and the Boston Pops, for which he has also written several arrangements. He was also one of the original members of the Boston-based Orange Then Blue.
The time for the musical specialist, said Hollenbeck in a recent conversation at his home in Cambridge, is over. “Being a specialist is a luxury that few can afford nowadays.”
“Anyway, for me, music never really had this barrier: ‘You’re a classical musician, you are this, you’re that.’ That wasn’t my experience,” he says. ”And with any profession, you have to move with the times.”
For Hollenbeck, this means working with synthesizers (“People are worried they are going to be put out of work. I say you still need someone to turn that synthesizer on. Don’t fight it, work with it.”) and getting more involved with writing music for film. “There are tremendous opportunities in that world,” he says, “and there’re going to be more.”
He credits John Williams, who arrived as conductor just as Hollenbeck began playing with the Pops 10 years ago, with sparking his interest in sound tracks.
“When he started he brought so much energy with his music,” says Hollenbeck. “There’s something very seductive about it. So I started paying attention to how music affected things when coupled with visuals. I was just trying to stretch as a musician. I never thought of it as a career, I was just trying to learn.”
He also mentions Williams and George Russell as important influences in his development as a writer.
“When you are a classical percussionist,” he continues, “you are in a kind of SWAT team. You sit back there and you wait. And then you wait a little more — but in the meantime, all these sounds are going around, and I tried to consciously absorb them. John is an unbelievable orchestrator himself, and when he came to the Pops he also brought with him music by other orchestrators, real top-of-the-line stuff, so it was almost by osmosis, hearing this terrific stuff.”
In 1987, Hollenbeck arranged and orchestrated Williams’ score for “New England Time Capsule,” a five-minute film made for the Omnimax Theater at the Museum of Science. “John had other commitments, so he wrote the themes and I basically put it together.”
The work of the orchestrator consists of assigning the different elements in a piece of music to the instruments in the orchestra. It can be a rather straightforward job with some elbow room for taste and creativity. In the Hollywood lore, there is always somehow more than that.
“When I got out there I heard these horror stories of orchestrators being handed a page with a title, a key signature and a number of bars and nothing else on it; so orchestrators have developed a mystique as, allegedly, ‘the secret composers,’ and in many cases it may be true — but not with John Williams. With him, orchestrating means taking his notes from the little green paper and putting them in the big yellow paper. But it was a tremendous learning experience.”
“He wanted me to do what he needed done but also somehow enhance it. But when it came down to the heat of battle and he was on the podium and the picture was going by he was amazing at molding the music and getting what he wanted. He’s like a chef. He has the ingredients and he chooses: ‘Take the oboes out, put the clarinets up an octave,’ whatever.”
“People usually think that to make something better you add something. The greatest thing I learned from him is that the opposite is true. Less is more.”
He said he was surprised by the mood at the recording sessions.
Director Steven Spielberg, producer George Lucas, they were all there, he said. “It was interesting. It’s not what I envisioned. There’s no feeling of stress and tension. It’s an incredibly positive atmosphere. They are having fun.”
And while this was not Hollenbeck’s first visit to Los Angeles, he says he also learned something about “laid-back LA.”
“I found it to be almost the opposite. Boston for musicians is laid back in the sense that there’s a limited number of jobs and you know what to expect. You also know, for example, that certain months — January, February, August — you are almost guaranteed not to work. There, at the recording session, the contractor would stand up at the breaks and read the list of names of people who had dozens of phone calls — and the rest were calling their answering services to check for work.”
The musician’s life, says Hollenbeck, “is funny.” “You sit around and do nothing or all of an sudden you get offered 25 gigs in two days.”
Typically, there’s not much time to enjoy the results of his work in ”Indiana Jones.” He just completed an arrangement of Bobby McFerrin’s hit ”Don’t Worry Be Happy” for the Pops. He is also playing regularly with the Pops. His next project is the orchestration of George Russell’s “Esthetic Gravities” for big band, to be recorded in London.
“I don’t have any insights in John’s methods,” he says as a sort of explanation, “but someone who produces so much and of such quality has to be incredibly motivated and disciplined person.”
“I remember an interview with Henry Mancini in the Globe: Perseverance is the key,” Hollenbeck says. “He is right. Some of my classmates were the kind of guys that when you heard them they made you want to quit they were so talented. Unfortunately, some of those people have turned into talented cab drivers.”